'There were warning signs': Domestic violence tool for law enforcement to launch statewide


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SALT LAKE CITY — Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and the Utah Department of Public Safety have high hopes for the statewide lethality assessment protocol program that was recently mandated by state law.

The lethality assessment protocol is an evaluation that helps police identify victims of domestic violence who are at the highest risk of being seriously injured or killed by their intimate partners. Utah law enforcement agencies previously were not mandated to utilize the protocol when responding to domestic violence calls.

The lethality assessment protocol has been championed by domestic violence advocates for years, with groups pointing to the dire consequences an error in judgment could have for domestic violence victims. Henderson became a proponent of the protocol's implementation after her cousin, Amanda "Mandy" Mayne, was killed by Mayne's ex-husband last August.

"It was pretty clear that there were warning signs. There were warning signs that week. That was a Wednesday, there were warning signs on Monday and Tuesday that week. It didn't get caught and they didn't get caught because largely law enforcement was operating in silos," Henderson said Wednesday. "We worked really hard to assess the root of the problem, because I knew that this was not just my family's problem."

Henderson spoke on behalf of her cousin throughout the legislative session in favor of SB117, which mandated the use of the lethality assessment on the scene of an intimate partner violence incident, mandates data collection and analysis at the Statewide Information and Analysis Center and makes relevant information regarding offenders available on the scene to law enforcement officers. The bill passed the Utah Legislature unanimously earlier this year and a pilot program launched in May.

"I want to say it was a long process, but looking back actually we've done this really quickly," Henderson said. "There are many families throughout the state who have experienced these types of tragedies. But we're hoping — we're confident especially with the results that we've seen so far — that we are going to have fewer and fewer families in Utah who do experience this sort of tragedy."

The pilot program saw participation from 58 agencies with 206 assessments being completed during that time, the Utah Department of Public Safety reported Wednesday. From the 206 assessments, approximately 128 revealed that a victim was in a potentially lethal situation. Some alarming red flags identified by the program have included an attempt by an aggressor to purchase a firearm and an aggressor who was identified as a homicide suspect in a previous domestic violence case.

The creation of a mobile app for law enforcement officers to utilize more easily will come following the statewide implementation in July. The app is slated to be released in August.

"When you have a personal tragedy as such, it does cause us a little bit of reflection and opportunities to do better. And I can tell you that this tool implemented for the state of Utah, for law enforcement ... it will improve victims' ability to get the help that they need and protect lives and save lives and we're already seeing that," Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson said.

While the tool and program are considered vital steps forward in addressing domestic violence statewide, providers worry about their limited ability to meet the increasing need. Funding is a persistent concern for domestic violence advocates and providers, despite the recent legislative session allocating a historic investment of $30 million in the statewide system of victim services.

Domestic violence providers statewide face a 40% to 50% cut in federal funds to the Victims of Crime Act program.

"We're so grateful for the legislative appropriation that helps to make up a little bit of that difference but still see an overall decrease in our funds. We know those referrals from law enforcement for the LAP are so needed and so needed for the survivors. But it is so difficult when we don't have the funds," said Ashlee Taylor, executive director of the Refuge Utah.

"We know that there are so many victims in the area that need our services, and it's hard to not get our information out and encourage them to call and to get help knowing that we're struggling to try to meet that capacity need," she said.

Last year, the Refuge Utah received approximately 3,000 hotline calls and had to turn away approximately 480 requests for shelter. The Refuge Utah has just 25 shelter beds and serves two counties.

"We know that we have a need for larger shelter. We've been really focused on that and trying to move forward in a plan to be able to build a new shelter that can meet the capacity and the need in our county. But it's really difficult when we're just trying to keep status quo with our budgets being cut," added Taylor.

Domestic violence resources

Help for people in abusive relationships can be found by contacting:

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Ashley Fredde covers human services and women's issues for KSL.com. She also enjoys reporting on arts, culture and entertainment news. She's a graduate of the University of Arizona.

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